Laura Ingalls Wilder (03:39)
Wilder became a well-known author by writing about her childhood. She represented the idea of the American pioneer spirit, but her real life was more complicated.
Wilder's Parents (05:13)
Wilder was in her 60s when she began trying to get her memoir published. Publisher suggestions led to "Little House in the Big Woods." The book immortalized her parents, Charles and Caroline Ingalls, who were dedicated to finding success in the west.
Wilder's Birth (03:16)
Wilder's parents lived in Wisconsin during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. That same year, the Ingalls got land and a log cabin through the Homestead Act; Wilder was born in 1867.
Wilder's Early Life (03:58)
When Wilder was two, the Ingalls moved onto land in Kansas that was not available to white settlers. In her books, Wilder called the land "Indian country" and showed the character Laura's fear and fasciation of Native Americans. After three years, the family returned to Wisconsin.
Wilder in Minnesota (04:24)
The Ingalls moved to Minnesota, built a dugout, and planted wheat. A Rocky Mountain locust invasion destroyed the wheat; an event Wilder included in "On the Banks of Plum Creek." Charles signed a pauper's oath, acknowledging his poverty and received food for the family.
Wilder's Omissions (03:52)
Wilder never wrote about her family's time in Iowa. Her nine-month-old brother died, and the family moved in the middle of the night to escape mounting debts. The family moved more times and in a more chaotic way than her fictional account.
Wilder in De Smet (05:51)
After her sister Mary when blind, Wilder would describe their surroundings. The family moved to De Smet, South Dakota, where Charles became a prominent member of the town. It would be the setting for the rest of Wilder's "Little House" books, including "The Long Winter."
Wilder's Young Adulthood (05:19)
Wilder began to work as a teacher at 16 and spent time with Almanzo Wilder, a homesteader in De Smet. She married Almanzo but refused to say "obey" in the wedding vows. They had an equal partnership, which was unusual for the time.
Wilder's Early Marriage (02:23)
Wilder and Almanzo's first years of marriage were filled with hardships. After the birth of their daughter Rose, they moved south. Wilder was 27 at the time and it was the last period of her life that appeared in her books.
Wilder's Farm (02:45)
In 1894, Wilder and Almanzo bought 40 acres and built a farmhouse in Mansfield, Missouri. They struggled financially and had jobs outside the farm. In 1902, Charles died and Wilder briefly returned to De Smet.
Rose Wilder (05:32)
Rose disliked life on the farm and moved away for school. She became a writer and encouraged Wilder to do the same. Wilder began writing for "The Missouri Ruralist," but wanted to find a larger audience.
Wilder's Memoir (03:08)
Rose, now Rose Wilder Lane, was living at home when the Great Depression hit. She edited Wilder's memoir "Pioneer Girl," turning it into "Little House in the Big Woods" after it was initially rejected by publishers. The book was published in 1932 as a children's book.
Wilder's Frontier Spirit (03:39)
Wilder disliked the New Deal, believing it was a bad way to deal with hardship. The Depression Era gave children a real-world experience that they could relate to in "Little House in the Big Woods." Wilder wrote about Almanzo's childhood in "Farmer Boy;" Lane made significant edits.
Wilder's Marketing (03:10)
Wilder wrote "Little House on the Prairie" and her books were marketed as a series. "On the Banks of Plum Creek" was the first to receive a Newbury Award. Wilder gave a speech connecting the books to the real history of America's westward expansion.
Wilder and Lane's Collaboration (06:58)
Letters between Wilder and Lane show how they worked on the books together; Lane was better at narrative structure and plotting. Lane denied any connection to her mother's work, not wanting to be linked to children's publishing.
Wilder's Racism (05:07)
Since the 1950s, Wilder's books have been criticized for racist views of Native and Black Americans. There is debate over whether passages should be removed or taught with context to school children. Wilder's name was removed from a literature award because of racist views.
Wilder's Later Life (03:01)
Almanzo died of a heart attack in 1949; he and Wilder had been married for 64 years. Wilder expressed her loneliness but was grateful for her fan mail. Wilder died at age of 90 and Lane at age of 80, without their collaboration being discovered.
"Little House on the Prairie" (10:36)
After more than 60 years in publication, Wilder's books were turned into a television series that ran for nine seasons. It stayed in syndication and on streaming because of its idealized version of a perfect, frontier family. The show created a new interest in the books and Wilder herself.
Credits: American Masters: Laura Ingalls Wilder - Prairie to Page (00:54)
Credits: American Masters: Laura Ingalls Wilder - Prairie to Page
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